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Cubs 5, Pirates 1: Feel better now?

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The Cubs got solid pitching and two home runs and evened up their season record.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

You didn’t really think the way the Cubs played on Opening Day was going to be the way it was for the whole season, did you?

Shame on you if you did, because on a gorgeous, sun-filled Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field, we saw what this Cubs team actually can be.

Jake Arrieta threw six strong innings and the Cubs got long balls from Kris Bryant and Jason Heyward and defeated the Pirates 5-1, evening up the series at one win each.

Jake was a bit shaky in the first inning, allowing a run, but after a nine-pitch second for Arrieta, the Cubs offense got to work.

Javier Baez singled and stole second AND third [VIDEO], looking like a man on a mission.

David Ross was impressed:

Jake Marisnick blooped this single into right to tie the game [VIDEO].

Heyward singled Marisnick to third, where he scored on a sacrifice fly by David Bote, giving the Cubs a 2-1 lead.

With one out in the third, Bryant made it 3-1 [VIDEO].

That ball had a little help from the wind, just making it into the basket, but KB will certainly take it. And in fact, the Cubs third baseman had a special fan in the stands Saturday:

Arrieta continued his solid outing through the third, fourth, fifth and sixth. After the first inning only one runner got past first base off Jake, a two-out triple by Adam Frazier in the fifth. Overall Arrieta allowed five hits, four of them singles, walked one and struck out five over 84 pitches (53 strikes). It might not have been vintage 2015 Jake, but this was a very good outing for a first start of a season. Arrieta got loud ovations when introduced and he will, I believe, be an excellent contributor to this rotation.

In the bottom of the sixth, Heyward made the score 4-1 Cubs [VIDEO].

That ball was demolished!

The Cubs added one more run in the seventh. Bryant walked with one out and was wild-pitched up two bases, where Baez singled him in [VIDEO].

That was a really nice at-bat by Javy, who had several “Javy! Javy! Javy!” chants while he was batting. He didn’t try to hit a 900-foot home run even with the wind blowing out, instead staying within himself and finding a hole for that single. His 2-for-4 day could be a good sign going forward.

Brandon Workman threw a 1-2-3 seventh with a pair of strikeouts and Andrew Chafin did the same in the eighth.

Then, somewhat surprisingly, Craig Kimbrel was summoned to throw the ninth even though the game was not in a save situation. Kimbrel was greeted with a warm ovation as he entered to his traditional song, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses. That was nice to hear — despite Kimbrel’s struggles as a Cub, fans still want him to succeed.

That he did on this day, at least. He struck out the side on 16 pitches (12 strikes), seven of them curveballs. He peaked at just under 97 miles per hour. All of this is a very good sign for Kimbrel going forward.

This is the sort of game the Cubs can play this year — a varied offense with solid starting and relief pitching. Yes, I know it’s just the Pirates but this Cubs team ought to be quite competitive in the NL Central this year. I did want to note the departure of Pirates rookie Ke’Bryan Hayes with what was reported as a left wrist issue after the second inning. That’s really too bad — he’s a dynamic young player and good for the game and you never want to see someone injured like that.

It was good to be back in the bleachers again. Even after 18 months away, it felt in many ways like I’d never left. Staff again was helpful, efficient and friendly and the COVID-19 protocols were definitely good in helping me feel safe. I did want to note this change in the lower bleacher concourse:

Al Yellon

Normally this is a corridor that allows you to walk underneath the left-field bleachers. It is closed off now to provide extra workout space for players behind the bullpen, to try to help them social-distance. This is in left field but I was told the same thing is being done in right field.

Also, if you’re eagle-eyed, you will note a change on the iconic center-field scoreboard:

Al Yellon

Normally, the pitcher numbers for out-of-town games are from 1 to about 15, corresponding to a list in the Wrigley Field scorecard. But this year, the scorecard is generic, with no rosters or pitcher lists like that. So the numbers you see are the starting pitchers’ actual uniform numbers. The scoreboard operators aren’t posting relief pitchers for games other than the one at Wrigley, for now, just another adjustment to pandemic baseball.

The Cubs will go for the series win Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field. Zach Davies will make his Cubs debut and Mitch Keller will go for the Pirates. Game time is again 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network.